Law firms may be required to publish price information on their websites next year. The Solicitors Regulation Authority today confirmed its long-held ambition to ensure consumers have more information about their potential legal services provider. Any changes would be implemented no earlier than autumn next year.
The SRA suggests firms do this only for certain types of work, such as conveyancing, wills or personal injury. A consultation on the scope of publishing requirements opens today and runs to 20 December.
It has also emerged that the SRA is looking seriously at collating its own data on complaints received by firms. The regulator stresses this information will be published with ‘appropriate context’, but it will be given its own space on the SRA’s website and made available to comparison websites.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said the aim is to make it easier for people with legal problems to ‘find the right service at the right price’.
‘In the last year, we have spoken to thousands of people and professionals to help us develop these plans. We have heard that price is important, but so is information about service and quality.
‘We need to get the balance right. We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens on firm, or publish information that is unhelpful or too complex. Our approach could help support a more open, competitive market where people can make good choices and firms can grow and thrive.’
The SRA has had price publishing in its sights for some time but was emboldened to act following recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority, which spent a year analysing the legal market and came out in support of greater transparency.
The regulator is alive to the threat of price collusion, as well as practitioners attempting to hide complaints figures, but neither would be sufficiently concerning to hold back the plans.
The Gazette understands that any firm refusing to publish price data would be subject to disciplinary action.
The SRA accepts that in some areas firms will not always be able to provide an exact figure, or sometimes even an estimate, before having a discussion with the client. It proposes that whichever way prices are shown, the total cost should be shown ‘where practicable’ and must include disbursements and VAT. Firms may opt to use instant online calculators or quote generators, or they could state certain fixed fees or hourly rates for certain elements of legal work.
The SRA plans to produce guidance and resources to help firms, for example in producing templates.
The regulator adds: ‘We are aware that price alone tells the consumer nothing about quality. However, price publication may help address views that legal services are not affordable. Firms are of course free and encouraged to provide any additional information they want on the quality of the service they provide, going above what the proposed requirements ask.’
Firms are set to be required to use a ‘regulated by the SRA’ digital badge and logo on their website, with the logo optional on print materials and advertisements.
The SRA also seeks to address concerns about its plan to allow solicitors to work in unauthorised companies, without the client protections that would normally be associated with a legal practice. Any solicitors working in unregulated firms will have to inform clients they are not subject to SRA requirements for compulsory professional indemnity insurance.